It has been a strange hockey season so far for your Philadelphia Flyers. Their apparent franchise goalie forgot how to stop pucks for most of October. It feels like most of their losses have been blowouts (in fact, every regulation loss they’ve had so far has been by 2+ goals). At times, it feels like they have one line that’s consistently doing things right. Different forwards have been called out for lack of production. And pretty much every defenseman other than, I don’t know, Matt Niskanen? has spent some time in the crosshairs for bad play here and there. It’s been a lot.
And then, hours after a win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, you take a quick gander over at the NHL standings, sort them by points percentage to account for the fact that some teams have played more than others, and see this:
Eastern Conference Standings (Through 11/9/19)
There are your Philadelphia Flyers, right there in fourth place.
Now, on the one hand, it’s probably not wise to read a ton into this. As you can see, the middle of the East is quite packed-in right now. A regulation loss to the Bruins tonight, and the Flyers would drop to somewhere around eighth or ninth in the above sorting, depending on what happens elsewhere in the NHL today. And their goal differential of just plus-3, compared to those of some of the other teams around them, does not scream that of a team in the top quartile of its conference.
But let’s indulge this for just a moment, because the list of three teams above them is an interesting one for one particular reason. The Capitals, Islanders, and Bruins. A recent Cup winner, a recent almost-Cup winner, and a team that’s been partaking in devil magic (and good coaching) to remain good with a mediocre roster for over a year now.
Anyone know who the Flyers have on their schedule over the next seven days?
All three of these teams. (As well as a likely-bad-yet-somewhat-frisky Ottawa Senators team, but we’ll ignore them for now.)
In an 82-game season, taking a span of three or four games and trying to draw widespread conclusions based on them is generally inadvisable. To be blunt, weird shit happens in small samples in hockey. Chances are the Flyers are not going to be a markedly different team at this time in one week than they are right now, and chances are they will have multiple good and bad stretches after this one that re-shape our opinion of what they are and what they can be and do.
But it’s hard not to put a fair amount of significance into this stretch, y’know? This is a team that, for seven years now, has been trying unsuccessfully to prove it is anything better than a middle-of-the-road team. This is a team that, for seven straight years, has been underperforming in the first quarter of the season. By the time this week is over, they’ll have played 20 games and will have squared off against what is, for now, the best the East has to offer.
There’s been a lot of discussion the recent past about what this team can do to get its fans to really buy in. To show them that these aren’t the Same Old Flyers, and that they’re worth paying attention to. Because a lot of those same old Flyers teams would probably fall flat on their face in a week like this.
One week isn’t going to win all of the skeptics over, and it may not even win most of them. And again: one week in an 82-game season only matters so much. Still, it sure feels like if this version of the Flyers really is something different, this is as good a time as any to show us that.